OK, I’ll Admit It, I Had a Mullet

This article was originally posted on June 20, 2008.

I was thinking about mullets (“business in the front, party in the back”) because a blog post I read today from IBM about tag clouds referred to Jeffrey Zeldman’s original blog post making the tag cloud/mullet comparison. Two interesting points:

1. IBM has released a tool for creating tag clouds, a commonly-used web tool for visually representing word frequencies in selected text by sizing words according to their frequency. It’s called Many Eyes, and some of its capabilities (such as the ability to quickly draw up comparison tag clouds for two pieces of text) are bound to be highly useful, while some are just plain cool. Thanks to Bill Ives’ blog for the reference to this tool.

2. In the Many Eyes blog, a reference is made to “one wag” calling tag clouds “the mullets of Web 2.0.” I thought that was hilarious, and a bit of quick research shows that wag is likely Jeffrey Zeldman. The interesting part, to me, is that he did so in April, 2005. For someone to be anticipating three years ago that web designers would be as sick of tag clouds today as we were of mullets, mood rings or the Macarena is pretty prescient. So, props to the cool kid.

However, I’m not a designer, just a business user, so for me utility begets ubiquity . Tag clouds are a super-useful device for efficiently navigating through tagged or indexed data using an easy-to-use visual tool. For better or for worse, tag clouds are not going away until a new, easier convention replaces them, no matter what the cool kids say. As the baseball player Yogi Berra famously stated about a Minneapolis restaurant, “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”

Maybe IBM can give even the cool kids something to like about tag clouds again with Many Eyes.

Originally published at https://mikegil.typepad.com.